Enceladus: Livable Moon?

We've been surrounded by the wonderful new images of Pluto from NASA's New Horizons project.

Photo credit: CNN
These images were across news outlets and the Internet showing us high definition images of a celestial body, but New Horizons is eclipsing the celestial body that we should truly be studying: Saturn's Moon Enceladus.

Enceladus is petite at only 310 miles in diameter and reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. Though we knew of its existence for years, it wasn't until the Cassini project in 2005 that we got a closer glance at this celestial body. It was through the Cassini project that scientists discovered this moon has water vapor geysers that send vapor to a distance of three times the radius of the moon. These eruptions appear to be continuous which both refreshes the surface and supplies material to Saturn's E-ring. Several gasses have been discovered in the plume of these geysers including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, perhaps a little ammonia and either carbon monoxide or nitrogen gas.

Photo Credit: NASA


The same chemicals found in the plume of Enceladus's geysers are the same combination of chemicals found here on Earth that support fungal life near deep sea vents, and scientist speculate that there may be the ability for Enceladus to support life. Scientist also believe that Enceladus has both an ocean under its outer layer as well as an active core. It is possible Enceladus is heated by a tidal mechanism similar to Jupiter's moon Io. Cassini is still in the area and continues to send remarkable data to NASA regarding this moon, and there are talks of missions to Enceladus to study the microbiology of the geyser plumes!

If you are interested in learning more about Enceladus, NPR, Forbes, and Space.com have all run stories in the past six months. I will warn you that a Google search may turn into a bit of a rabbit hole - it was for me! I'll see you back here on Friday!







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